Exhibition Inquisition

The stuff you look at, but don't see.

Brian Eno: 77 Million Paintings

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University Art Museum – CSULB

Seeing red

Seeing red

Fire-engine red is always a bold color, an entire entry wall and gallery painted red, is even bolder.  The designers of Brian Eno: 77 Million Paintings chose to be very bold.  When you open the doors to the University Art Museum at California State University Long Beach, all you see is red (and also two very large black velvet curtains).  The only wall text in the whole exhibition is in this entry way.  It describes Eno’s career in terms of being a music producer, but says very little about his artistic statement for this show.  The following was included on both the wall text and on the exhibition pamphlet:

“[77 Million Paintings] challenges the notion that the artist must be in control.  Eno’s work simply sets the trajectory for the work to evolve into patterns that have the potential for surprising him as well as the audience.”

The work has been seen internationally, including at the Venice Biennale and at the Luminous Festival in Sydney Australia.  This is the first time the work has been seen in Southern California.  The work also changes forms, and can be smaller in scale (as it is at the University Art Museum), or in enormous scale as it was when it was projected on the sails of the Sydney Opera house. The show at the University Art Museum, while small, fits the space and captures the dazzle and spectacle of its larger incarnations.

Sydney Opera House – Luminous Festival

Still seeing red

Still seeing red

After entering through the black curtains you come into a large (red) room. The ceiling rose to a high skylight from which some natural sunlight came through. The room was full of prints from 77 Million Paintings.  These images are the source for what gets programmed into the system of screens that make up the central work of 77 Million Paintings. Even those this is a small show the display is simple and smart.  First you get shown the still images, and then you are shown those images in motion and set to sound.

Wall labels, very discrete

Wall labels, very discrete

Only two labels (at opposite corners of the square room) were used.  They said simply that they were all signed Giclee prints in editions of 50.  The prints were hung all in nice polite rows, some were hung landscape and some were hung portrait, even though the works themselves could have been hung either way it wouldn’t have mattered.  The one thing I did not like about these prints was the glass that was used in the framing.  All of the prints had severe track lighting aimed at them.  But the bright lit bounced off of the highly reflective glass and cast distracting glares onto the floor.

Halos of reflected light

Halos of reflected light

Behind the first room was a frighteningly dark hallway (I started to feel like I was in a very artsy haunted house).  In the hallway was a large pile of stones, according to the wall text it was actually a “cone of vermiculite.” Vermiculite, I discovered with some google-hunting is commonly used as an insulator and as a fire-proofing agent.  The artistic use of the mineral was interesting.  This first cone was lit from above (but very faintly) by a red light.  The cone didn’t have any barrier around it, and it looked like it was looking less than perfect.  Then while I was standing there a museum employee came out with a broom and swept the cone back into a more perfectly-conical shape.

Vermiculite cone, wikipedia it

Vermiculite cone, wikipedia it

This dark hallway lead to the main event.  The sights and sound of 77 Million Paintings were installed in a long room.  The room is so dark when you first enter you really have to let your eyes change to the darkness.  At the end of the room is what looks like an ever-evolving stained glass window in a chapel.  The window is actually the paintings, and the paintings aren’t paintings at all, but actually 12 video monitors of varying sizes which play images that are constantly changing and on random.  The video screens aren’t the only thing in the room; several more vermiculite cones are lit from above in ever-changing colors.

Main event in this three-ring circus

Main event in this three-ring circus

Large low benches also populate the space.  I hated this seating not only because they were ugly but because I was being lied to.  In the wall text:  “Seating in the gallery allows viewer to comfortably enjoy the ‘paintings’ for any length of time.”  The seating was not comfortable, it was horrible, and sitting there uncomfortably made me get out of my seat after only two minutes.

"Comfortable" benches

"Comfortable" benches

I then went on my hunt for the sound.  As always I’m obsessed with sound in gallery spaces.  This is probably because I’m used to museums being very silent, but more and more I’ve noticed sound permeating through an exhibition space.  The wall text, again, said that the sound came out of “strategically places speakers.”  I think the speakers were more like obviously placed speakers.  Once my eyes had gotten accustomed to the darkness I had no problem targeting out the exposed (ugly) speakers. I guess I found this shocking because the T.V. monitors are embedded in the wall which makes them hard to distinguish, and then the sound speakers were so exposed and obvious.

Painting # 64,212,865 of 77,000,000

Painting # 64,212,865 of 77,000,000

Personally I didn’t like the installation because the seating was not comfortable, and therefore I didn’t stay and enjoy the morphing play of light and sound in front of me.  I honestly enjoyed looking at the color on my friends’ faces change with the monitors most.

Who’s watching? It’s the money you could be saving with Geico

Who’s watching? It’s the money you could be saving with Geico

When I got home from the exhibition I did some more research about the sponsors listed on the exhibition brochure.  One of them, Lumen London caught my eye. Courtesy of Lumen London’s fancy beta website:  “Lumen (London) Ltd was incorporated in 2006 to produce and create Brian Eno’s 77 Million Paintings shows around the world.”  Lumen also makes a nice little profit on selling the (signed) prints from the first room of the exhibition online.  Lumen does have a very nice website however where they document all of 77 Million Paintings previous incarnations with plenty of images.  The website is almost better the exhibition at the University Art Museum because you can see the whole range of possibilities for Eno’s work.

Stained-glass window

Stained-glass window

Below is a video of a public program with Brian Eno at the University Art Museum CSULB:

– H.I.

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